From the very start, when Antonio Pappano conjured a feather-light hush from the opening bars of Verdi's Requiem, it was clear we could be in for something very special in this great work. And so, across 90 musically gripping minutes, in this second concert of the Santa Cecilia orchestra and chorus's weekend visit from Rome, it was repeatedly to prove.
Given his operatic credentials, it was no surprise Pappano kept such a practised dramatic hand on a work that is, in the end, as much an apotheosis of singing as a conventionally religious piece. The mesmerising opening, with the solo quartet thrillingly intense, was the first of a succession of compellingly intimate moments, among them the whispered choral interjections amid the cataclysms of the Dies Irae, Joseph Calleja's breathtakingly sweet entry midway through the Offertorio and, a few pages later, the luminously gentle string tremolandos achieved by the Santa Cecilia players as the soul is ushered into heaven.
And while the Rome orchestra and chorus also made awesomely powerful music at the many moments Verdi requires it, this performance was marked from first to last by Pappano's ability to secure a rare and enthralling inner concentration.
Long ago, in the Albert Hall, Georg Solti conducted a quartet of soloists in this work - Leontyne Price, Yvonne Minton, Veriano Luchetti and Martti Talvela - whom I never thought to hear bettered. But Pappano's quartet came very close to that exalted level. Calleja's unfailingly handsome tenor was outstanding throughout, and save for a slight miscue in the Libera Me, Hibla Gerzmava was remarkable, giving a radiantly expressive rendering of the many moments when the soprano caps Verdi's great ensembles. Carlo Colombara was imposingly vernacular in the bass role, while the French-Sicilian mezzo Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo, a late substitution, had the mixture of vocal fire and consolatory tenderness that the part demands.